Systemic inequities hinder kinship foster care

5/4/2023, 6 p.m.
In the most recent 2023 General Assembly session, Senate Bill 1219 was tabled in the House and left with the …

In the most recent 2023 General Assembly session, Senate Bill 1219 was tabled in the House and left with the Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee for further analysis.

The purpose of this bill is to reduce the limitations set for formerly incarcerated individuals with penalties related to drug crimes to act as kinship foster caregivers for children within the child welfare system.

Kinship care is the care of children by relatives or fictive kin after removal from birth parents. The benefits for children to be placed with family include but are not limited to familial connection, increased stability, and minimal traumatic impact of being removed from the home.

As written, this bill aims to reduce the time elapsed since release from drug-related incarceration from 10 years to five years for individuals to be eligible to qualify as kinship foster parents.

This legislation is relevant to the Black/African-American community because this population is largely over-represented in both the criminal justice and child welfare systems. As of August 2022, the Virginia Department of Social Services reported that Black/African- American children comprise over one-fourth of Virginia’s foster care system.

In addition, Virginia is one of the strict states when it comes to barrier crimes, especially those related to child welfare, employment, housing and many other aspects of human rights.

According to the Justice Policy Institute (JPI), “Virginia is ranked 13th nationally by the rate incarcerated per 100,000 of the overpopulation.”

JPI also reports that Virginia offenses related to drug sales and drug possession also make up quite a bit of the committed offenses throughout the state with Black people sentenced at higher rates than other racial groups.

This letter aims to inform readers and provide awareness of the systemic inequities that are hindering children and families from engaging in kinship foster care.

This also is a call to action for those passionate about social justice, child welfare, and decarceration to engage with legislation especially as they relate directly to racial oppression and the hindrance of Black and African-American people from childhood into adulthood.

Some organizations in which readers can learn more and get involved are Voices for Virginia’s Youth, Foster VA, OAR of Richmond and Marijuana Justice.